Self-esteem has been central to the Australian debate on girls' education. As far back as 1975 it held a key position within the analysis offered in Girls, School and Society. Within the review of girls' education programs offered in the subsequent 1984 Commonwealth Schools Commission report, Girls and Tomorrow: The Challenge for Schools its central position was consolidated.
In some circles self-esteem is the pivot on which all other issues related to girls' education revolve; for example, girls-only classes, camps or schools are important as they raise girls' self-esteem; physical education programs or related sporting activities are important as they raise girls' self-esteem; methods of learning are judged in terms of their potential to raise or dampen girls' self-esteem; it is often argued that girls' self-esteem is not threatened in situations where they can work in small groups and learn cooperatively; role models are seen as important because they raise girls' self-esteem as girls witness their potential in the form of a woman whom they can both identify with and learn from. The issue of self-esteem has come to be an icon within the girls' education debate. To take down icons, even temporarily, dust them off and re-examine them is to risk the charge of heresy. However, a process of re-examination is necessary, not only for reasons of intellectual integrity but also for reasons of equity and access. We have consistently to re-evaluate whether the icons are worth worshipping but also whose icons are being worshipped, by whom and for what reasons.
Several questions need to be explored in relation to self-esteem. Is its prominence in the debate warranted? Is the issue of self-esteem central in the debate because it is more important than other issues, or because it is relatively easy to handle? Loss or gain of self-esteem implies measurement. How is it measured? Which situations cause loss of it or contribute to its enhancement? Additionally, we are, as educationists, obliged to ex